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Even a ‘Big Man’ Must Face Justice

Human Rights Desk

The trial of the former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone’s armed conflict was a largely well-run proceeding, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The trial benefited from a high-quality defense, sound handling of witnesses, and dynamic outreach to communities affected by the crimes. At the same time, Human Rights Watch’s analysis identified areas in which practice should be improved for future trials of the highest-level suspects before domestic, international, and hybrid war crimes tribunals.

The report analyzes the practice and impact of Taylor’s trial by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. The report examines the conduct of the trial, including issues related to efficiency, fairness, and witnesses and sources.
It also examines the court’s efforts to make its proceedings accessible to communities most affected by the crimes, and perceptions and initial impact of the trial in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The report is based on research in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Hague, London, and New York from September 2011 to June 2012.

The Taylor trial took place against a backdrop of criticism and concern over the feasibility of trying national leaders before international or hybrid war crimes courts following the 2002-2006 trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

That trial was notable for its sometimes-chaotic atmosphere and Milosevic’s death before a judgment was issued.
The Taylor trial largely avoided major disruptions that could have marred the proceedings, Human Rights Watch said. Taylor’s decision to be represented by counsel appears to have contributed to the generally respectful and organized tenor of the courtroom.


Taylor was sworn in as president of Liberia on August 2, 1997, after leading an eight-year insurgency against the Liberian government. Taylor’s presidency, which lasted until 2003, was characterized by widespread human rights abuses in Liberia.

Taylor’s forces also participated in armed conflicts and cross-border raids in neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire, where they committed numerous abuses.

On March 7, 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Taylor under seal for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone’s armed conflict.

On April 26, 2012, Taylor became the first former head of state since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II to face a verdict before an international or hybrid international-national court on charges of serious crimes committed in violation of international law.

Taylor was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all 11 counts of the indictment on the theory that he aided and abetted the commission of the crimes and was therefore individually criminally responsible for them.

He was also found guilty of planning attacks on the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone and the town of Makeni, the economic center of northern Sierra Leone, in late 1998, and an attack on Freetown in early 1999, during which war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed.

27 Jul 2012   04:13:39 PM   Friday
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